High speed rail debate hots up: MPs join war of words

High speed train The high speed trains debate has divided public and political opinion

It's like Marmite: you love it or hate it but you can't be undecided.

HS2 is either a vanity project and a waste of money or it is a transformational scheme which will rebalance the British economy.

And by one of those coincidences that happen only in politics, two unrelated but simultaneous sequences of events have conspired together to sharpen the debate.

The six month statutory consultation period, due to end on 29 July, has witnessed a storm of protest along the proposed route.

Parallel tracks
Map of part of the proposed route of the London to Birmingham high speed line A map illustrating part of the proposed route of the London to Birmingham high speed line

Once-sleepy Warwickshire villages like Ladbroke and Burton Joyce have become hotbeds of protest and dissent with local people parading their mascot: yes, inevitably, it's a white elephant!

At the same time, the Commons Transport Select Committee is conducting its own inquiry into the £36bn project.

They have just returned from a fact finding trip to the high-speed lines in Germany and France. The MPs say they could find no one who thought we in Britain should not follow their lead.

Start Quote

The benefits are very marginal... I'm as productive on the train as I am in my office”

End Quote Jerry Marshall AGAHST

This week, the two converged: the select committee questioned opponents of HS2 including Jerry Marshall, the chairman of Action Groups Against High-Speed (AGAHST).

Action Groups Against High-Speed Trains is the umbrella organisation co-ordinating what might otherwise have become a haphazard assortment of local campaigns, some driven by environmental issues, others more concerned with the fortunes of the local golf club.

Mr Marshall did not pull his punches.

The reduced journey times would produce 'very marginal benefits' which did not justify even the initial £17bn stretch between London and Birmingham, let alone the full £36bn network between London and Scotland.

Reconnecting the regions

There is a general recognition among supporters of the project that the opponents of HS2 have made much of the early running.

Start Quote

High speed rail is a transformational project - it will help rebalance the economy”

End Quote David Cameron Prime Minister

Significantly, an all-party group of MPs has come together to talk up high-speed rail.

Their Secretary, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart, sees HS2 as the essential mechanism for reconnecting our more, and less, prosperous regions and combating the threats of the two-speed economy.

And so the debate goes on.

With the results of the public consultation not due to be made known until the end of the year, we're not exactly on the fast track...

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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @Francis King: Er actually nope, rail freight has been growing year on year and actually increased by 70% between 96/97 and 06/07. Big freight companies such as EWS and GBf now are so successful that they are competing for freight contracts abroad. Even Eddie Stobart has a rail freight operation with a big contract with Tesco. They NEED new capacity though to keep taking lorries off the roads!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I live less than 4 miles from a proposed green tunnel for the HS2 . I am angry that politicians like the millionaire Philip Hammond have taken the attitude that the people who do live near the proposed route are "little people" Mr Hammond lives in leafy Weybridge nowhere near the route. His second in command lives in Chipping Barnet, nowhere near the route. I condemn these people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The ministers have just returned from europe looking at the hs system there. Built well before the recession with government money essentially. Are they proving value at the moment? Have they contributed to the dire fiscal problems these countries are facing? Any independant professional analysis commissioned?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It seems as if much of the business case revolves on attracting business travellers, no doubt with resorces to pay a higher level of fare at busy times. it may be worth reflecting on the the fact that several small airlines went under on their cross atlantic routes with the reduction of numbers travelling in their business class aircraft. similarly the big carriers felt this badly. HS2 same thing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Opponents say that HS2 would be used only by high-paying business class travellers. Improve the business case & roll-out to a wider section of the population by a faster Eurotunnel shuttle going direct from Calais to the major cities and up to Scotland! For lorries this would save on driver hours, making a return journey easier to complete by one driver in a day, and reduce road congestion.


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